Reviewed by Jimmy Roh
Since the release of George Eldon Ladd’s ground-breaking work, The Gospel of the Kingdom, first published in 1959, the phrase “already and not yet”—used to describe the biblical teaching on the kingdom of God—has become commonplace among evangelical scholars and pastors. In The Majesty on High, S. M. Baugh insightfully challenges the use of this phrase as a controlling paradigm for our understanding of the kingdom of God in the NT. He argues that its use in modern literature is “subject to misunderstanding and unnecessary imprecision” (139). Furthermore, popular teaching on the subject tends to focus on vague notions of God’s reign, leaving believers today without a clear definition of the kingdom. In view of this, Baugh answers the question “What is the kingdom of God?” by addressing the subject matter “for people in the church without all the trappings of a scholarly book” (v). One feature you will notice immediately is the absence of footnotes. Baugh achieves the fine balance of making years of scholarly wisdom readily accessible to the church.
Chapter 1: Introduction
In chapter 1, Baugh argues that the kingdom of God is not an isolated doctrine or theme, but “the central reality of the Scriptures and therefore of all creation” (2). With this sweeping statement in mind, he lays out his main thesis that the kingdom of God is definitively the new creation. Throughout the rest of the chapter, he proceeds to describe his methodology by defining key terms and concepts. He argues that although the term “kingdom of God” may not be found everywhere in Scripture, the concept or “biblical reality” is pervasive (2). Thus, it’s critical to study NT passages where the concept is present even if the term is not. Baugh’s method is helpful for pastors and church leaders in providing an example on how to trace a biblical concept across the canon or in this case, the NT.
Over and against the expression “already and not yet,” Baugh prefers the language of inauguration and consummation as it relates to eschatology. According to Baugh, the expression’s use in modern literature leads to “unwanted inaccuracies” (5). What’s needed are several key qualifiers. He identifies these qualifiers as five “constituent elements” to the kingdom: (1) The King; (2) Ruling power, royal authority, dominion; (3) The realm; (4) The kingdom subjects or citizens; (5) Covenant as kingdom constitution. The five distinctions are key to Baugh’s method. Throughout the rest of his work, he analyzes each passage according to this schema.
In addition, Baugh highlights the organic unity of Bible by tracing the development of redemptive revelation from the OT to the NT and even within the NT itself. He contends that the underlying principle behind his approach is that “redemptive revelation develops in connection with the unfolding of redemptive accomplishment” (8). On this point, he duly notes the distinction between pre-Pentecost and post-Pentecost revelation—Pentecost marking the completion of Christ’s inaugural work. This distinction accounts for how the kingdom is described in the Gospels and Acts and later in the epistles. He reiterates that “later revelation on the kingdom is clearer and fuller than earlier disclosure” (9). This principle also underlies the structure of his work. He begins his study in Revelation and works his way backwards through the epistles and then the Gospels. Furthermore, as a NT scholar, Baugh chooses to expound on select foundational texts rather than broadly surveying every relevant passage in Scripture as in a systematic approach. Baugh’s method is the strength of his work as he provides a solid exegetical basis for his views.
Chapter 2: Revelation Four
In chapter 2, Baugh covers Revelation 4 as an introduction to several key elements of the kingdom (king, ruling authority, and realm) and as a precursor to Revelation 5. The focus of Revelation 4 is upon God the Father as the sovereign king of all creation. This is highlighted by the emphasis on the throne, which is the quintessential symbol of royal dominion throughout the Bible (20). The four living creatures (Rev 4:7–9) represent the different realms of the earth. Baugh argues that the twenty-four elders represent God’s covenant people in the OT (twelve tribes of Israel) and NT (twelve apostles) eras. He highlights several structural and grammatical links between the two songs in Rev 4:8 and Rev 4:11, which culminate in Revelation 5. He also notes the use of the covenant formula (“our Lord and God”), which confirms that the twenty-four elders are the covenant people of God from all ages. He closes the chapter by posing the question of how the twenty-four elders can stand before a holy God without fear of judgment? While this tension leads into the next chapter, Baugh notes that God’s kingdom established in creation must become a “redemptive, atoning, and saving realm” to be inhabited by fallen human creatures (31).
Chapter 3: Revelation Five
In chapter 3, Baugh examines Revelation 5, which details Christ’s ascent to royal authority after completing his work on earth. In this chapter, we see three of the key aspects of the kingdom: the king, ruling authority, and the citizens. The Lion-Lamb completes his redemptive work and is thus worthy to take his place on the throne as the King over the new creation. Baugh notes that Christ’s dominion has been fully consummated. He contends that the phrase “they reign on the earth” should be rendered “over the earth” (43). God’s people do not reign with Christ on the earth now, but Christ rules over the earth as indicated by the symbolism of the seven horns and seven eyes (Rev 5:6). The significance of this rendering is that Christ is ruling now in the midst of his enemies (Ps 110:2).
Chapter 4: First Corinthians Fifteen
In chapter 4, Baugh turns our attention to 1 Corinthians 15. The focus of this passage is upon Christ’s rule as King in the present and the aim of his dominion in this age to defeat death through the resurrection of God’s people. In 1 Cor 15:50, the kingdom is clearly identified as the realm of the new creation as only resurrected bodies can enter. Furthermore, the eternal kingdom has been “definitively inaugurated with the resurrection of Christ in his office as Second Adam and firstfruits of his people” (49).
Chapter 5: John Three
In chapter 5, Baugh explores the Gospels beginning with John 3. Jesus’ teaching to Nicodemus establishes that only believers who have been transformed through a special act of the Holy Spirit can enter the kingdom of God. Here Jesus’ emphasis is on the “spiritual character” of regeneration or the “effects of this renewing transformation,” which have been inaugurated now and await final consummation on the last day (66).
Chapter 6: Matthew Five
In chapter 6, Baugh continues in the Gospels by examining Matthew 5. This chapter focuses again on the citizens of the kingdom and the royal authority of Jesus. Jesus’ royal authority is expressed in the Beatitudes (Matt 5:1–12), which convey the future benefits to his subjects when his kingdom is consummated. In the meantime, Jesus as King confers citizenship by way of royal grant in the first and last pronouncement of blessing—“For theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:3, 10)—which form bookends to the rest of the Beatitudes. Baugh likens this grant to “new passports” which allow us access to the kingdom now, in this life. An important implication of this grant is the King’s demands regarding kingdom ethics in anticipation of a complete moral transformation in the new creation.
Chapter 7: Covenant and Kingdom Part I
In chapters 7 and 8, Baugh shifts our attention to the theme of covenant. At this point, Baugh adjusts his methodology by examining several passages, mostly in the book of Hebrews, “because there is no one place that says enough on the topic” (105). Here the focus of the kingdom shifts from the King and his subjects to the role of covenant as the constitution of the kingdom. He defines or describes the covenant as “an oath-bound commitment between two or more parties” (p. 109). The first element of his description is that covenants are bound by an oath. He draws upon Heb 7:20–22 (cf. Ps 110:4) and the concept of the eternal oath sworn by the Son and sealed by the Father “before the world began in the divine counsel,” also called the pactum salutis or “covenant of redemption” in Reformed theology (112). The pactum reveals that Christ will act as High Priest forever, guaranteeing the eternal effectiveness of his new covenant priestly mediation, “the guarantor of a better covenant” (Heb 7:22).
Chapter 8: Covenant and Kingdom Part II
Chapter 8 builds on the previous chapter by explaining how the pactum salutis inaugurates the kingdom of God in the new covenant and relates to God’s elect. Exploring the book of Hebrews again, Baugh argues that the new covenant constitutes the kingdom by establishing the covenant bond between God and his people (Jer 31:33; Heb 8:10) sealed through the blood of Christ (Heb 9:14–15). However, the full realization of this covenant bond will only come about in the new creation (Rev 21:3). When the messianic King returns, the world will be shaken, but the new creational kingdom will remain (Heb 12:25–27; cf. Ps 18:7; Isa 13:13; 24:19; Rev 16:18). Moreover, the new covenant is permanent, inaugurated through Christ and in place to all eternity.
Chapter 9: Conclusion
In chapter 9, Baugh closes with several summary thoughts and some concluding reflections. Though he has argued that the kingdom of God is the new creation, Baugh warns against reading “new creation” in place of “kingdom of God” without distinguishing between the terms “inauguration” and “consummation.” Ignoring this vital distinction can lead to an under- or over-realized eschatology. To avoid these two errors, Baugh proposes that the best way forward is by applying the five constituent elements along with the distinction between inauguration and consummation. These qualifiers and distinctions provide balance in our understanding of the kingdom. Baugh closes with a few examples of his balanced approach from the Gospel of Matthew (Matt 7:15–23; 11:2–15; 12:22–29; 13:24–30, 36–43).
To conclude, The Majesty on High will serve pastors and laypersons very well as an introduction to the biblical teaching on the kingdom of God from a distinctly Reformed perspective. Baugh’s volume is not a technical work and addresses the subject in a highly accessible manner. He describes his volume as providing “an essential starting point for any discussion of the kingdom of God” (148). I believe The Majesty on High successfully achieves this stated purpose. Amidst the hundreds of works on the kingdom of God, Baugh’s volume deserves our attention as a crucial starting point. The Majesty on High provides a solid foundation on the subject by clearly defining the kingdom of God as the new creation. I particularly appreciated his careful definition of related concepts and terms and the consistent application of his method. As a popular book, I would have appreciated some further pastoral implications throughout the study (e.g., how the Beatitudes inform our ethics in ch. 6). However, each chapter also includes helpful study questions for individual study and group discussion. Coupled with the size of the volume, The Majesty of High is a valuable resource to have on the shelf in the libraries of pastors and churches.
Jimmy Roh is a PhD student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC